Proper Hamster Care: Caring for Your New Hamster

Posted on Oct 13 2012 - 11:27pm by Susan Bewley

Considering buying a hamster? Learn what you need to know about proper hamster care right here!

While I have spent a lot of time focusing on natural living for dogs and cats, I realized I was forgetting an important member of my family – Nuri. So, who is Nuri you may ask? If you saw the title of this article, you have likely guessed that my favorite office companion is my teddy bear hamster. Having never had a hamster before, I spent a lot of time researching hamster care before looking for my fluffy friend.

Since hamsters are very common pets, especially for kids, I expected the internet to be flooded with information on proper hamster care! To my horror, many of the sites had conflicting information, some of which could kill many household pets. Having a pet friendly, natural household, I wanted to make sure my new hamster was cared for right, leading to me purchasing multiple books on hamsters and talking to actual vets online in forums. What I found was that proper hamster care is easy and very inexpensive, assuming you know what you are doing!

Hamster Care: Choosing a Hamster

It doesn’t matter if you are buying a hamster for your child or yourself, don’t pick the first cute hamster you see. Like most small creatures, it is hard to find an ugly hamster. Don’t get me wrong, they exist, but kids especially love small animals. I personally have to be careful since I’m drawn to picking sick animals and nurturing them back to health. For most families, however, not knowing how to pick a healthy hamster can lead to heartbreak.

If it has received proper hamster care at the pet store, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem, a healthy, happy hamster should be:

  • Not too skinny or fat (some fat is ok, just make sure there is no unusual swelling)
  • Chosen a hamster that is perky and alert. A sick or moody hamster will want to avoid people. A healthy hamster will WANT to know what is going on and explore!
  • Your hamster should have fluffy, smooth looking fur.  This is a sign of proper grooming. Hamsters that are sick stop grooming themselves.
  • Look at the hamster’s teeth. They should be properly aligned and not overgrown. Ever wonder why hamsters are always gnawing on things? It’s because their teeth NEVER stop growing!
  • While it may sound gross, check the rear end and make sure it isn’t wet or soiled. This can be from diarrhea and severe illness. Usually in pet stores this is a sign of “wet tail,” a very serious, contagious illness that is common in pet stores that don’t properly care for their animals. If wet tail isn’t treated quickly and properly, it can dehydrate the hamster and lead to death. Also, make sure there is no discharge coming from the hamsters nose or ears.
  • If any of the hamsters in the store show signs of illness, DO NOT purchase a hamster from that store since most hamster diseases and viruses spread quickly.
  • Make sure all the hamsters in the store are running and walking properly.
  • Never buy a hamster from a pet store that will not let you hold the hamster. It is the best way to tell the temperament of the hamster and determine if it is a good fit for your family.

Unless you have dwarf hamsters, never put two hamsters in the same cage. Teddy bear hamsters, the most common, are very territorial and will kill another hamster in their territory. While some can live together, it is better to keep them solitary to prevent injury and reduce stress.

Hamster Care: Cage

Have you ever seen all the cute plastic cages with the tunnels? I hate to break this to you, but those cages and wire cages are the WORST habitats for your hamster. Many pet stores claim that these cages are idea for proper hamster care and give your hamster lots of exercise. In reality, these cages are hard to clean, very easy to quickly escape, and do not give your hamster enough room to run. Wire cages are the worst since it’s easy for a teddy bear hamster or dwarf hamster to escape. Smaller hamsters can squeeze through the bars, and teddy bears will just nibble on the wires until they are free.

The best cage for a hamster is actually a 20 gallon terrarium with a mesh top. Once the tank is filled with bedding and toys, your hamster has plenty of room to sleep, run, and hide food stashes. If you do not give your hamster enough room to exercise, as well as a wheel, they will start destroying things in their cage out of nervousness. As well, hamsters feel more comfortable and safe when they can have little food stashes. Like most rodents, it is in their nature to hoard, so help them feel a little more comfortable with this extra room. While it is very difficult for hamsters to escape from these cages, I always recommend putting books or other heavy objects on each end of the cage top – our hamster climbed on top of her sleeping house to try lifting the top within a month of coming home!

By now, you are likely wondering what my problem is with those cute tunnel cages. In actuality, I do own one of them for Nuri and consider it a must item for proper hamster care if you travel like us. I use a small tunneled cage (pictured below) when we are visiting family for no longer than a week. Now, Nuri has escaped from this cage, but it took her about three weeks to do and it was by pressing most of her weight against one of the attachment knobs. My big issue with using these cages exclusively is hygiene. If my Nuri has a choice, she will choose one corner of her cage to do her business. In these small cages, she will pee and poop anywhere since she doesn’t have a lot of room.

I can tell you that unlike a glass cage, these cages are a pain to clean and usually lead to you having to take the whole cage apart and soaking the pieces in nearly boiling water or in anti-bacterial cleaner. Cleaning out my small cage after a week trip takes about two hours – while cleaning Nuri’s glass cage once every two weeks to a month takes about fifteen minutes. Even though many people don’t think about it, hygiene is an important part of hamster care. For hygiene and cleaning purposes, I think the glass tank wins. It makes the hamster happy, gives its owners more to watch, and is much better for human noses!

Hamster Care: Bedding

If you ask most pets store associates or look at their hamster care sheets, they will say to purchase pine or cedar bedding. What they don’t tell you is that these bedding are actually very dangerous! These bedding can cause splinters, injuries, and are very difficult for hamsters to digest. Even though many of us don’t think about it, hamsters use their mouth to transport everything in their cage, including their bedding. Could you imagine having splinters on the inside of your cheeks? If you think this is bad, it gets much worse. Pine and cedar both often contain toxic chemicals (naturally or from treatment) that can actually poison your hamster, making them very ill, and in some cases, killing them.  Cedar, which was recommended for years by pet stores, is even worse. When animals pee on cedar, it creates a chemical reaction, creating ammonia in your cage – which your pet is breathing AND putting in their mouth!

So, what is the best bedding for proper hamster care? Aspen shavings. This bedding is biodegradable, easy to digest, naturally absorbent, and neutralizes hamster odor. I never buy my bedding in a pet store since it is usually overpriced. Instead, I purchase a 8 cubic foot bag of Kaytee Aspen Bedding on Amazon for about $39. A bag lasts Nuri a year, making it very inexpensive and always on hand. You can buy smaller bags as well, but (as our regular readers know) I usually like shopping for bargains, especially when it comes to my pets. Currently, Amazon has an excellent price on this bedding and they are always running deals on Kaytee pet items.  Also, if you want to make your hamster happy, sneak some toilet paper, still on the roll, in the cage every so often. Nuri especially loves to tear it up and make a bed for herself!

Hamster Care: Food

Like all pets, the best hamster care comes from feeding your hamster quality food. Unlike other pet food, it is easy to pick out quality, healthy food for your hamster. Pick food that mostly consists of seeds, dried fruit, nuts, and dried vegetables. I purchase Kaytee’s Fiesta Max Treats for Hamsters and Gerbils. Along with this dried food, feed your hamster fresh fruits and vegetables. I give Nuri strawberries, squash, and other fruits as a treat. She especially LOVES zucchini. Best of all, you can give your hamster foods that are a bit too overripe or soft for humans, leading to you having less produce waste in your household, and a happy hamster too!

Hamster Care: Toys

As a rule of thumb for proper hamster care, avoid anything plastic. Hamsters will chew on plastic and it is very hard to pass through their system. For a food bowl, I always use a ceramic bowl made for pets. Nuri does bite on it sometimes, but not only is it healthier for her teeth, it is hard enough to handle her chewing! Here are some of the items I have bought for Nuri:

Talking about toys and hamster care, it is pretty obvious that a hamster needs a wheel. While they are a bit noisy, they are the best form of exercise for a hamster. This is the one area where it is okay to buy plastic. A safe wheel should be completely solid with no holes in the running area. Even though most pet stores have metal wheels with slats, NEVER buy these wheels. They kill hundreds of hamsters a year and maim/injure thousands. Hamsters when they are running can get their feet and tails stuck in these slats, leading to broken legs and other life threatening injuries. My husband’s family learned this the hard way when he was a child, since his pet hamster became trapped in the wheel. When another hamster (they didn’t know Teddy bear hamsters should be kept apart) started running in the wheel, it tore the hamster to shreds…as you could guess, this wasn’t a very happy memory and one no parent wants to explain to their child.

Hamster Care: Price

Overall, Nuri is a very inexpensive pet. She costs me less than $100 to care for a year, counting food, bedding, and toys. If you are buying a hamster for the first time, I recommend buying the following. I put onetime costs in blue and reoccurring costs in red:

As you can see, proper hamster care is very inexpensive. If you have a child who is ready for their first pet, a hamster is a perfect starting pet for children, making them ideal for birthday or Christmas gifts. Just make sure you are ready for a commitment, since these loveable pets can live anywhere from 3 to 6 years.  If you want your hamster to live as long as possible, make sure they receive the right environment, a lot of love and proper hamster care!

Budget Earth & its writers did not recieve compensation or products from any companies mentioned in this article, which is completely the opinion of the writer. Also, Nuri was compensated with grapes for being such a great model!


Susan Bewley is a professional writer who has been writing content online & in print format for over 10 years. As well, she is an alumni of the University of Louisville with a Masters Degree in Special Education. When not working as an online business consultant or ghost writing, she can be found writing on Budget Earth, on her own novel, or working with various entities in the pet industry.

48 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Suzie October 14, 2012 at 12:11 am - Reply

    Very interesting information.  I hope others will learn to take proper care of their hamster like you have.  Ceder or pine bedding is so harmful.  People use it for bunnies and with prolong use has killed them.  Do you allow Nuri to run around on your desk often?

    • Susan Bewley October 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm - Reply

      Nuri only runs around on the desk for photos so one of us can hold the camera and the other watch her. Most of the time she is in hands or in her cage.

      • Kaylee August 8, 2017 at 7:50 pm - Reply

        Teddy bear hamsters don’t exist that’s a name pets tore give to make the hamster sell faster. The rest of your information seems to be correct. Nice article though.

        • Susan Bewley August 8, 2017 at 9:28 pm - Reply

          Yup, you are correct – they are Siberian hamsters. I had the ‘teddy bear’ since unfortunately, that is what most people think they are called, mostly due to pet stores. My fear with calling them their real name was people thinking they weren’t the same pets they saw in stores. 🙁

  2. jheylo October 14, 2012 at 12:19 am - Reply

    aawwwww. that is so cute susan 🙂 looks like you both get along so well hehehehe. i don't mind to have a pet like that.

  3. jheylo October 14, 2012 at 12:40 am - Reply

    your hampster is so cute 😀 we went to the pet store a few weekds ago and we thought of getting hampster but then we realize taking care of it can be expensive. Ugh! we decided not to

  4. Malia October 14, 2012 at 3:33 am - Reply

    Great post, lots of good info!  I don't think I could ever own a hamster though…

  5. julieann r October 14, 2012 at 6:49 am - Reply

    A lot of great information here….thanks for sharing with us.

  6. MamaBreak October 14, 2012 at 10:55 am - Reply

    My daughter wants a hamster, but they are a little too much work for me. We already have 2 dogs and a cat!

  7. Melinda Dunne October 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    So cute! I am allergic to hamster but I think they are so cute. I love the pics and as always your great information! 

    • Susan Bewley October 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm - Reply

      That really sucks! The only pet allergy we have to deal with here is Daniel’s cat allergies (which makes having Lucie a chore sometimes).

  8. Sue Invegas October 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Great info for anyone wanting a Hamster!! What a cute lil one!

  9. Melissa S.O.S. Mom October 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    What a fun, different and insightful post! It's funny because my sister had a hamster a few years back and we were just talking about it a week ago or so! Too bad they don't live longer than a couple of years… they are such cute creatures! 

  10. Sheila October 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    Oh my god that expensive.  The hamster is so so cute but the maintenance is the opposite of cute hehe. well, it's worth it i guess if you love hamster.

  11. Tiffany Cruz October 15, 2012 at 7:52 am - Reply

    Your hamster is cute. We got a guinea pig instead. Now I'm wishing we got the hamster. Thanks for the tips, guessing I could also use some of them to care for my guinea pig.

  12. Ace October 15, 2012 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Cute Fuzzy Hampster! 

  13. Kelly R October 15, 2012 at 10:22 am - Reply

    I love hamster's you brought back so many memories of my childhood.

  14. Tom Shewbridge October 15, 2012 at 11:11 am - Reply

    I had about 5 hamsters when I was a kid, they all got lost, unfortuanately they all ended up in places they shouldn't have been, i.e. the vacuum cleaner, but great article, thanks for sharing!

  15. Pam October 15, 2012 at 11:22 am - Reply

    Hamsters are one pet that we never had in our household.  This is really good information for those that do or are thinking of getting one. Great detailed post!

  16. Suzi Satterfield (@MotherhoodLooms) October 15, 2012 at 11:31 am - Reply

    Wow.  Thanks for sharing!  I actually didn't know that they had to be kept solitary.  My parents used to buy hamsters in pairs when I was growing up.  Oops!

  17. Jessica P October 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    This is a great post!  My boyfriend has a chinchilla and a lot of these tips are very similar to what he has taught me in caring for him. I love little critters. I can't wait to get my daughter her own hamster when she is a little bit older.

  18. Jenn October 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Susan, this is an awesome article! Your hamster is adorable!

    • Susan Bewley October 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm - Reply

      Thank you! She is a sweetheart 🙂

  19. Alaina Bullock October 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    I love this post!  I remember we used to have hamsters when we were little kids, and my sister would let them out of their cages and we'd have to chase them all over the house!  They hurt when they bite you too!  But I loved watching them run through their mazes and on the wheels.  They really do make a good pet, when left inside the cages!

  20. jheylo October 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    cutie humpster eating strawberry 

  21. jheylo October 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    great infor for those who are planning to have a hampster for pet

  22. Bless October 15, 2012 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    This is very cute to have as a pet but my girls are still young and can't really take care of it. Maybe when they're old enough we can get same like this,

  23. Tammy Klain October 15, 2012 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    I am book marking this post because my little one has been begging for a teddy hamster, debating on one for Christmas for her 🙂

  24. Angie October 17, 2012 at 11:02 pm - Reply

    I am in love! Nuri is the cutest darn thing! This article is just what I needed as I just talked to my hubs about getting a hamster for the kids— Thanks for another great post!

  25. Candy Olivares October 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Wow! Nuri is so cute and I'm so glad I read this post! We have considered a pet- a teddy bear hamster looks so cute to have. 

  26. Elle Briarson April 16, 2013 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    My sons have been begging for a Hamster! Excited to read them your post, to educate them some more!  🙂

    • Susan Bewley April 18, 2013 at 9:59 am - Reply

      They truly are sweethearts. The main issue with hamsters I have found is the short lifespan. Nuri, the Hamster in the article, was two and a half years old when she passed away. For a hamster that is a normal lifespan. They teach so many wonderful and lessons are wonderful pets. They really touch a lot of lives with their adorable personalities.

  27. jennifer Hall May 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    So cute, and my son is getting to the age where he wants his own pet!

  28. Becky Schollian May 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Fabulous!! I sure wish I knew of your blog back when my daughter got her first Hampster. I knew none of this you posted, other than food & water, and needless to say that poor pet passed. My G'son wants a Hampster. I was reluctant to get it for him until now. thanks so much, you just made one boy real happy!!

  29. marissa lee May 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    this is good information thank you for sharing…this will come in handy when my little one is old enought to take care of one.

  30. krystel June 29, 2013 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    awwwwwwwwww how cute ive always wanted a hamster 

  31. Lisa F. July 6, 2013 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Ho cute! I used to have rats and they were very good pets. Loving, sweet. I like that you put the part about temperment testing in this post. Rats, too, are very gentle when handled young and lovingly.

    • Susan Bewley July 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm - Reply

      I LOVE rats. I need to write an article about them since so many people are terrified of them or assume they are vicious. They are pretty much like less stinky ferrets 😉  We have three spoiled rotten rats in our household – the first two being purchased when Nuri passed away (as you can guess, I miss her terribly). The only bad thing about rodents as pets is the short lifespan.

  32. Annick Leroy January 13, 2014 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Do you have any suggestions for other independent toys to keep hammie busy besides the wheel & a chewing object? We have a 20L and the basics, but I think hammie is board as he spends a good amount of time trying to escape! Any ideas would be great.

  33. Shannon May 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this information! I really think everyone should read this before getting a hamster.

  34. Tara October 6, 2016 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Thank you for the amazing info! we just got our first teddy bear hampster that we purchased off a nice lady and he came with a plastic cage like you mentioned. We will now be going to purchase our little guy some new stuff!

  35. Morgane January 12, 2017 at 7:15 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing all this information, I am getting a hamster as soon as I get the cage ready before though (waiting for my next paycheck) and I’ve been looking for information about them(i want to know everything before i make a mistake haha) I’ve been looking for days, now. But you are the most helpful person, thank you so much !

    • Susan Bewley January 12, 2017 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      You are very welcome! I went through the same thing when I got my Nuri. There is so much conflicting information out there, as well as marketing. I am so glad I could help!

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